A life cut short: One family shares its story
One family has stepped forward to help save lives. Although not easy to do, members of the Pagel family agreed to recount the day they lost their daughter Tiffany to accidental electrocution after she had climbed a tree and made contact with a power line.
The Pagels shared their story through Safe Electricity, a public awareness program of the Energy Education Council. The non-profit group includes hundreds of energy providers, including Rock Energy. Its mission is to create a safer, smarter world by providing lifesaving, energy-saving, and cost-saving information and resources.
Rock Energy Cooperative reminds everyone to check for power lines before letting children climb trees or before outdoor activities such as flying a kite or operating a remote-control plane, drone, or other device. Adults should be mindful of power line locations before trimming trees or carrying an extension ladder.
In Memory of Tiffany
The year was 1991.
It was a beautiful summer day. The sun was shining and the outdoor air inviting—much too nice to spend the entire day indoors.
Although nearly 30 years ago, what happened that day is forever etched in Holly Pagel’s mind.
Like so many times before, Holly and her sister Tiffany decided to play in a large tree across the street. They climbed it often and knew all its nooks and crannies. Their favorite spot was a large, sturdy branch near the top. The girls sat on it with their feet dangling while they told stories, shared secrets, and enjoyed a bird’s-eye view of their neighborhood.
Tiffany and Holly were two of six children in the Pagel family. Because they were just one year apart in age, the girls were thick as thieves. They dressed in copycat outfits and did almost everything together. Their mom, Barbara, will never forget that summer when Tiffany was 9 and Holly was 8.
In an instant, everything changed. While high up in the tree, young Tiffany reached up and grabbed a power line. Unable to let go, Tiffany was electrocuted and died. Although difficult to retell, Holly and her family share the harrowing memory so that others might learn from what happened that day.
Holly said they were sitting together on their favorite tree limb. According to Holly, Tiffany lifted her arm and her hand “grabbed ahold of that power line. Then all of the sudden … both of her hands were clamped onto it and I was kind of facing towards her and I just remember her shaking a lot, and her eyes rolling in the back of her head,” Holly said, who recalls smoke coming from her legs.
In that moment something stopped Holly from reaching out for her sister.
“I just knew for some reason not to touch her,” Holly recalled. “After a moment of sitting there watching that, I can’t remember how I got out of the tree. I don’t know (how I got down).”
Holly said that day has haunted her all her life. Earlier in the day, the girls grabbed a snack out of the fridge to take to the tree: Kraft Singles cheese. To this day, Holly follows a special ritual: that type of cheese is never the last thing she eats; never the last taste in her mouth because it is “something that was remembered (from) that day for her and I,” Holly said.
“Post-traumatic stress disorder does take over a lot of your mind,” said Holly, who deals with anxiety and has a fear of death and dying.
It has also impacted how she parents. Some days she struggles to let her kids be kids “because I have a fear of losing them,” she confessed. “I am more protective than most people would be.”
Barbara said it was close to the end of her workday when she received a phone call informing her that her daughter had been in an accident and that she needed to get to the hospital.
“By the time I made it, she was already gone,” Barbara recalled. “It’s hard because you don’t get to tell them goodbye. Who would’ve dreamed (this would have happened to Tiffany.)”
Her family describes Tiffany—or Tiffy as they affectionately called her—as a tomboy with a big heart who loved her family. She made friends everywhere she went and saw the good in everyone without being prompted. Even though she was young, Tiffany “had a way of touching people’s lives and hearts in ways I never knew a child could,” Holly recalled.
Tiffany also loved nature. For a child her age, she had an uncanny appreciation for trees. She once entered the house grasping a scraggly sapling in her little hand, asking if she could plant it in the yard. Her parents tried to explain to Tiffany that it wouldn’t grow, but the wide-eyed girl insisted that she could get it to prosper.
“Sure enough it grew,” Barbara recalled.
Even though it was painful to relive, the Pagels hope everyone can learn from that fateful day they lost Tiffany. They remind us that kids, as well as adults, could come in contact with a live power line while climbing or working around trees.
“Look at trees; look at where power lines are,” Barbara said. “Children see birds and animals sit on these lines and they don’t understand.”
Even many adults don’t comprehend that lines, even if they appear coated, are live with thousands of volts of electricity running through them, she added.
When a person or animal touches a power line while also touching anything else, such as a tree or extension ladder, the electrical current runs through the body because it becomes part of the pathway to the ground.
“Be careful and look at everything before you let your children play because you just never know,” Barbara warned.
Family friend Kyle Cagle said he often wonders what things would have been like had Tiffany not reached up that day.
“I always wonder who she would be. What would she be?” Kyle said. “She missed out on a life she should’ve had.”